For additional information, please visit the Clearwater Historical Society Web site.
When this area was known only to the Native Americans, clear springs
gurgled from the banks into the bay. The springs, long since gone, were
located along the high bluffs upon which City Hall and downtown Clearwater
are now situated. Early settlers called it Clear Water Harbor, by which
it was known until 1895 when Clearwater became one word. Harbor was dropped
Spanish explorer Panfilo de Narvaez came to the Pinellas peninsula in
1528. The exact place he first stepped is disputed, but may have been
Clear Water Harbor. Narvaez later perished in a storm after crossing Florida
on foot with a party of soldiers.
In 1539, Hernando De Soto landed at Tampa Bay. He later died near the
headwaters of the Mississippi River. Pedro Menendez arrived in 1567 searching
for a route across Florida. He brought 10 missionaries to establish missions
throughout the area. One of their Jesuit missions was established at Safety
Harbor. Those who remained with this mission later perished in battles
with the natives, who had been mistreated by previous exploration parties.
White settlers did not return to this area until the 1800s.
Florida became a territory in 1822. During the Seminole Indian Wars of
1835, the government built the original Fort Harrison as a recuperation
Center for soldiers, and not as a defensive fort. It was located on the
bluffs where Harbor Oaks is now. The fort was abandoned in 1841, and is
commemorated by a plaque on Druid Road in downtown Clearwater.
The first blacks came to the area with Narvaez's exploration party. The
first white settler was French Dr. Odet Philippe, who had served under
Gen. Napoleon Bonaparte. He established St. Helena Plantation in what
is now Safety Harbor, and raised citrus. His daughter married Richard
Booth, and these pioneering families' names are still well known in Clearwater.
The Federal Armed Occupation Act of 1842 gave 160 acres to any head of
family or single man over 18 who would bear arms and cultivate the land.
The "father of Clearwater," James Stevens, and Samuel Stevenson
were among the first settlers. After a visit in 1841, James Parramore
McMullen and his six brothers settled in the Clearwater area. They and
their descendants held many important governmental positions throughout
the early years.
Most settlers farmed vegetables and cotton. Fish were plentiful. A hurricane
in 1846 and a vicious storm in 1848 were among the hardships. The first
paper, "The Clear Water Times," was established by Rev. C.S.
When the first narrow gauge railroad was built in 1888, the Clear Water
Harbor community had about 18 families. Henry Plant, the foremost Central
and West Florida developer of the time, later built a standard gauge railroad
through Pinellas County. To boost his passenger business, he built several
grand resort hotels, including the Belleview Biltmore in 1897.
Clearwater grew steadily throughout the early part of the century. Tourists
and settlers were drawn to the area because of the climate and toutings
of early developers and speculators. The Florida real estate boom began
in earnest in 1921 and peaked in 1925. The bottom fell out in the bust
of 1927, foreshadowing the 1929 market crash and nationwide depression.
When the "Pinellas Point" was first settled, it was Western
Hillsborough County. As Clearwater, Largo, St. Petersburg and other communities
grew, so did the clamor for independence. It was a day-long trip to travel
to the courthouse in Tampa. By act of the Legislature, Pinellas County
was created on Jan. 1, 1912. Clearwater was the county seat.
The city of Clearwater was incorporated on May 27, 1915. The library
was built in 1916 with a grant from Andrew Carnegie. In the same year,
the city built the first wooden bridge to Clearwater Beach, opening it
up for development. Morton F. Plant, the son of the illustrious Henry
Plant, donated and raised money for the first hospital in 1914.
The population continued to steadily climb. After World War II, a number
of soldiers who had trained here returned to live. The Philadelphia Phillies
professional baseball team began spring training in the 1940s. From 1950,
with 15,000 residents, the population continued to burgeon until it reached
the number of citizens that we have today.